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May 31, 2013

FIFA approves stricter racism bans

PORT LOUIS, Mauritius -- World soccer's governing body Friday put in place tougher measures on racism, introduced integrity checks on senior officials and welcomed a woman to its ruling board.

Still, some insist FIFA is not doing enough.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter, however, was gratified by the steps following the scandals of the last few years.

"I am happy to say that FIFA has weathered the storm. We have emerged from troubled waters," he told delegates at the organization's annual congress on the Indian Ocean island.

But the head of the reform panel advising FIFA said there is still much to do. Swiss professor Mark Pieth said FIFA must make public the salaries and bonuses of its big earners and set age and term limits for senior officials. Also, independent observers have not yet been allowed onto FIFA's decision-making executive committee.

FIFA did take action on racism, and teams will now face much tougher penalties for serious racist abuse, including point deductions and relegation.

The measures were approved overwhelmingly and follow recent problems in Italy and England. According to the new regulations, serious or repeat offenses by a club or its fans could also lead to team bans from tournaments, including the Champions League.

In another matter, Lydia Nsekera of Burundi was voted onto the executive committee as its first female full-time member on a four-year term while two other women were put onto the executive for a year.

Pieth told The Associated Press before the start of the congress that FIFA's reforms were only about halfway to completion. He said the integrity checks weren't as strict as they could be, and it was "essential" that FIFA impose term limits on senior officials.

"The logic there is to say you don't want networks and old boys groups to establish themselves over 30 years or so," he said. "That's a real issue."

The issues of term limits and age restrictions were pushed back to next year's congress. Those reforms could affect any plans the 77-year-old Blatter may have of running again for president in 2015 and backtracking on a previous commitment that this term would be his last.

The issue has now been muddled in the politics at play between Blatter and Michel Platini, the European soccer head who is considered a future challenger.

"My take on it is this is held up by political bickering by mainly two people. And the whole place is been held hostage by the fight and the struggle of two people," Pieth said.

The new integrity checks will be made for officials standing for the presidency and some committees. But members of the top executive committee that are elected by their continental confederations will be vetted at confederation level, and not centrally. Also, Pieth's recommendation that those confederation checks be scrutinized by independent auditing firms was not adopted.

About one-third of FIFA's powerful executive committee either left posts or were suspended for ethics violations over the last two years. FIFA's honorary president, Joao Havelange, recently resigned after it was found he took bribes in the 1990s.

Four of the six confederation presidents have resigned or been suspended over recent years and a fifth, Issa Hayatou of Africa, was reprimanded by the IOC.

In a swipe at some of Pieth's criticism, FIFA executive committee member Theo Zwanziger of Germany described the insistence on even stricter integrity checks as "absurd," highlighting the uneasy relationship between FIFA and its reform advisers the past few months.

"We must have the necessary trust in members in football," Zwanziger said. "If we start with mistrust from the top down, then this sport is no longer what it was."

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